Doctoral Research

Reconfigurable, Non-Contacting Modular Spacecraft

My Ph.D. research investigated the technological applications of magnetic flux pinning, a non-contacting interaction between superconductors and magnetic fields, to the assembly and reconfiguration of modular spacecraft.

The dissertation itself is available online here.

Flux-pinned modular station

A modular, non-contacting space structure concept. The translucent blue blobs and red magnetic field lines represent the flux-pinning interaction rather than any physical object. (If this is a manned station, flexible tubes would allow astronauts to move from module to module; the station would get its structural rigidity from flux pinning.)

Whether communications satellites or interplanetary probes, typical spacecraft are monolithic assemblies designed for a unique set of functions. Engineers rarely expect to access and modify space systems once they are on station, precluding upgrades, repairs, or extended missions with enhanced system functionality. Flux pinning allows an approach to spacecraft reconfiguration - changing the physical or system layout of the spacecraft - that replaces active controls with passive dynamics and kinematics. By prescribing the multibody system kinematics through manipulation of magnetic fields, operators can limit the spacecraft to safe (collision-free) motions and have it reach a target configuration without full-state sensing or control - possibly with no control at all. With its dynamics driven to equilibrium by ambient force fields in the space environment, the spacecraft need use very little power; and with predetermined kinematics governing the reconfiguration maneuvers, the spacecraft need only process a graph of possible dynamic equilibria and the kinematic transitions between them rather than implementing a many-state multivariable control strategy with many potential points of failure.

This work involved experimental characterization and numerical modeling of flux pinning components, development of laboratory testbeds for our technology and control strategies, and even microgravity flights on NASA aircraft.

You can read more about this and other research at www.spacecraftresearch.com


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